Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert (Apocalypse Sound AS 185)
Madison Square Garden. New York, NY, USA – 29 October, 2009
Hold On, I’m Coming, Soul Man, The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Fortunate Son, Oh, Pretty Woman, Jungleland, A Fine Fine Boy, New York State Of Mind, Born To Run, (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher
Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, USA – 30 October, 2009: Because The Night, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday Celebration – 3 May, 2009: The Ghost Of Tom Joad, This Land Is Your Land, Happy Birthday, Pete Seeger
The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary with two special concerts on 29 and 30 October, 2009. Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band (accompanied by horn section Curt Ramm, Ed Manion and Clark Gayton) headlined the first show, playing for one-and-three-quarter hours of a total performance time of six hours. The numerous other performers included Jerry Lee Lewis, Crosby,Stills and Nash, Paul Simon, Smokey Robinson, B.B. King and Sting. The Hall Of Fame’s website announced before the shows that artists would be “performing their own songs and the music that inspired them,” and this was certainly the case with Springsteen, who, as the Variety website puts it, “went on a trek – as he often does – through the territories that inspired him in the first place.” As with other artists Springsteen’s musical journey was undertaken with some special guests.
As the Variety website also says, the two shows were, “boiled down into an evening-long special…aired on HBO on Nov. 29.” This release therefore presents us with all of the songs that were aired from Springsteen’s section of the show, though not his entire performance, as the telecast omitted seven numbers, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Proud Mary (with John Fogerty), Da Doo Ron Ron (with Darlene Love), London Calling Calling and Badlands (both with Tom Morello), and, from the encore, You May Be Right and Only The Good Die Young (both with Billy Joel). Additonally, Springsteen took the stage on the second night with U2, and both of the songs performed are included in the bonus material.
Unfortunately, the telecast omitted the initial song, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, a particular shame with the presence of the horns. Consequently, this DVD begins with Two Sam And Dave numbers, Hold On, I’m Coming and Soul Man, during which Springsteen was joined by Sam Moore himself. The seventy-four year old Moore was resplendent in a sequinned waistcoat that led Caryn Rose, writing on Springsteen’s website, to comment that he “looked outstanding (hell, he looked better than every member of CSN).” He had performed these songs with Springsteen at a Christmas show, and, referring to that performance, Glenn Radecki writes on the Backstreets website that they “traded verses…instantly elevating the show the way they did in Asbury Park in 2003.” Again, Springsteen and Moore share vocal duties on vibrant and hugely enjoyable versions of both numbers, during which Patti Scialfa and Soozie Tyrell take their places among a six-strong troupe of backing vocalists.
Springsteen is then heard pointedly summarizing today’s economic situation: “If Woody Guthrie were alive today, he’d have a lot to write about: high times on Wall Street and hard times on Main Street.” He then introduces Tom Morello, who joins the E Street Band once more for a rendition of The Ghost Of Tom Joad. It was Morello, according to the Rolling Stone website, “who really set the place on fire, delivering one of his finest guitar solos.” There are two guitar interludes in this stunning rendition. The first features a tremendous guitar duel between Springsteen and Morello; he second features Morello alone in an astonishing display of virtuosity that brings the song to a close. Morello’s rough-edged vocals also contribute enormously to a stunning performance.
The next song continues the theme of social division. Springsteen introduces John Fogerty and they share vocal and guitar duties on a hugely energetic rendition of Fogerty’s Fortunate Son. A second Fogerty number, Proud Mary, is unfortunately omitted but we are treated to a fun version of Roy Orbison’s Oh, Pretty Woman. Fogerty also contributes to this song; fortunately so, as Springsteen says he “wouldn’t try this by himself.”
If there were any qualms about including the next song in the middle of the set in a celebratory setting where members of the audience were presumably not neccessarily Springsteen fans, they must have been dispelled by the end of the performance. As Radecki writes, “a very strong performance of ‘Jungleland’ mid-set was not only perfect for the event and the location, it made it clear that Bruce was capable of transfixing a crowd with his own material as well.” Rose argues that this rendition is “as powerful as any ‘Jungleland’ you have ever seen,” and goes on to describe its effect: “Every chatty, bored concertgoer in our section had shut up and decided to pay attention by the time the sax solo had ended. As a fan, you wanted to turn around to everyone there for someone else and say, ‘Yeah, the Bruce Springsteen you didn’t care about seeing, did you know he could do THAT?'”
Next up is Darlene Love for her 1963 number A Fine Fine Boy. Helped by the contribution of the backing singers, this is a performance full of vitality and high spirits. Love is as vivacious as the song itself and you it is hard to believe that she was sixty-eight at the time of this show.
Curiously, the broadcast then skipped over five consecutive songs, the final three from the main set (Da Doo Ron Ron, London Calling and Badlands) and the first two from the encore (You May Be Right and Only The Good Die Young). The next number is therefore the third Billy Joel song, New York State Of Mind, from his underappreciated album, Turnstiles. Springsteen is joined not only by Joel himself, but by his band. This version sees Springsteen and Joel sharing vocal duties and the song works well as a duet. It comes across with an approprately mellow feel and it features a splendid sax solo from Mark Rivera. Joel stays around to share the vocals to Born To Run. The song is given a vibrant performance but it does not benefit from Joel’s contribution. His voice does not suit the song, which fails to come off as a duet, and there is something distinctly odd about someone singing Born To Run while seated at a piano.
The show then reaches its climax with Jackie Wilson’s Higher And Higher. Springsteen is joined by all his guests, plus Jackson Browne and Peter Wolf, who, as Rose puts it, “came out from somewhere.” The Point Blank website argues that it is, “a song that, we dare say, should close from now on all the remaining shows of the Working On A Dream tour. Can you hear me, Boss?” (Perhaps Springsteen was indeed listening – Higher And Higher closed seven of the remaining ten concerts and was the penultimate song of the other three.) The song gets a wonderfully lively performance, with a prominent contribution from Darlene Love, though unfortunately the credits, which feature still images of all the night’s artists, are played over the first part of the song.
The first bonus feature sees Springsteen and Roy Bittan joining U2 on stage during the second Hall Of Fame show. Bono announces that they are about to perform a “very special” song. “It’s a Bruce Springsteen song,” he announces, “and it’s also a Patti Smith song,” and Smith also takes the stage. The song is effectively played in the Patti Smith version. The performance seen here is the second attempt at the song as the first rendition broke down soon after starting. Springsteen and Bittan remain on stage for what Radecki rightly calls a “very strong” performance of U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, during which Springsteen plays rhythm guitar and sings lead vocals on the second verse.
Finally there is footage of Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday celebration concert, at which Springsteen was again the last to appear, following various artists ranging from Emmylou Harris to John Mellencamp. Firstly, he is joined by Tom Morello for another rendition of The Ghost Of Tom Joad, an acoustic version this time, with Morello again contributing effective vocals. Springsteen then pays fulsome tribute to Seeger, whom he credits with a “stubborn, nasty, defiant optimism,” and whom he refers to as, “the stealth dagger through the heart of this country’s illusions about itself.” Somewhat less seriously, he says that, “he’s gonna look like your granddad, if your granddad could kick your ass.” Seeger then takes the stage for the finale, together with all the artists who took part. As with the performance at the We Are One Concert (included on the DVD Fields Of Dreams, already reviewed) Seeger speaks the lines before they are sung, presumably to encourage the audience to contribute. The next two songs, Well May The World Go and This Little Light Of Mine are omitted, but we do get the assembled company singing Happy Birthday to Seeger.
This release comes in Apocalypse Sound’s customary tri-fold packaging, with a clear plastic tray to hold the disc. It features nunerous onstage photos of Springsteen and the various guest artists. All the content is in broadcast quality. Some may argue that a performances such as this are a little too “self-congratulatory” and “cheesy,” as Bobby G does on the Stone Pony London website. As generalizations, there is some validity in such remarks, though I cannot agree that they apply here. This release represents an opportunity to acquire non-standard repertoire performed in company with some well-chosen guest artists. Moreover, there is nothing smug or cheesy about the performances of songs such as The Ghost Of Tom Joad, Fortunate Son or Jungleland, and, overall, this is another worthy release from Apocalypse Sound